The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Religion

How did the Warren Court protect the free exercise of individuals’ religion rights?

In Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Warren Court ruled 7–2 in favor of Seventh Day Adventist Adele Sherbert, who was denied unemployment compensation by South Carolina officials for refusing to work on her Sabbath day of Saturday. The state courts rejected Sherbert’s free-exercise claims, finding that she could still practice her religious faith. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, writing that the state rulings infringed her religious liberty rights and that the state could not justify such an infringement by a compelling state interest. “Significantly, South Carolina expressly saves the Sunday worshipper from having to make the kind of choice which we here hold infringes the Sabbatarian’s religious liberty,” the Court explained. The state had argued that the denial of benefits was justified because the state had a compelling interest in preventing fraudulent claims. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state had failed to carry its burden of showing a danger of such claims.


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